Misery of a different kind

Never ever Nexus – Six months of misery

My Nexus 9 is gone, and I am searching for new genuine Android tablet love

Lord Tennyson wrote “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love”. Being technology writers our thoughts turn to something rather more prosaic, tablets. To paraphrase Alfie L. T. – “In the Spring the wanton tech writer gets himself another tablet”.

Tablets have one thing in common with love. In order to find new love you usually first have to get rid of the old model. As you may have read, we both pre-ordered Google Nexus 9 tablets last November. The old model I got rid of was the cheerful and colourful Tesco Hudl 2.

The Hudl 2 remains an excellent entertainment tablet at a fabulous price (£99), and was in retrospect far more satisfying than the Nexus 9. When you consider that you can get three of them and a case of 24 of Tesco’s Finest American Double IPA delivered for the same price as our Nexus 9 (was £399, now £349), that is rather damning. Frankly, Google should bundle the Nexus 9 with large quantities of an even stronger beer, so owners can drown their sorrows.

On paper, the Google Nexus 9 has great specs. A fast NVIDIA 64-bit CPU, a retina screen (Same 2048 x 1536 resolution and 3:2 aspect ratio as retina iPads) and of course it was the first device to ship with Android 5.0 Lollipop. Alas, as is true with an awful lot of products, the specs of the Nexus 9 were no use at all for evaluating the actual user experience. Instead of an iPad-killingly gorgeous supermodel we received sows daubed with an awful lot of lipstick.

The screen is undeniably brilliant, although better exist (as Davy will soon elaborate on). The tablet is light and thin, and it looks stylish in an understated way. Also, Lollipopis a great step forward for Android. It looks a lot more grown-up. The differences are clear every time I use a device running 4.4 KitKat. Unfortunately, that is where the positives end.

Nexus 9

The supposedly revolutionary NVIDIA Tegra K1 Denver CPU architecture is clearly flawed, or at least completely unsuited for Android. The CPU may be blisteringly fast at benchmarks, but games were invariably stuttering and lagging whenever there was any background activity. On Android, there is background activity all the bloody time. This might account for why there are only two K1 Denver devices on the market. Great CPU choice, Google!

Also, the SoC on the Nexus 9 consumes a lot of power. The battery life is terrible, frighteningly so if gaming. Even worse, a lot of power means a lot of heat. It is certainly possible to design a thermal solution capable of dissipating the heat, HTC, the manufacturer clearly could not be bothered. Instead, they just stuck an admittedly attractive plastic back on. During even light use, a small area near the camera got uncomfortably hot. Great manufacturer choice, Google!

Whoever thought it was a good idea to put 2 GB of memory in this 64-bit, 400 quid flagship tablet is clearly a far bigger idiot than we were for buying them. Two gigabytes might be perfectly fine for iOS and Windows 8.1, but then they are modern, light-weight operating systems, rather than an unwieldy monstrosity stacked on top of a 1960s operating system.

It turns out that Android 5.0 Lollipop is even more memory-hungry than 4.4 KitKat. You would have thought that Google would not want a tablet sold under their brand to unload the launcher whenever any app is launched, only to chunteringly slowly repopulate each row of launcher icons when quitting the app.

Also, it would have been nice to be able to successfully copy and paste information between apps, or to switch between two tabs in Chrome without the pages reloading. Sadly, the Google Nexus 9 was very rarely able to do that. Whenever I checked the geeky memory stats, the time spent with critically low memory was always over 80%. Great design choice, Google!

As if this was not enough to make you weep, the Nexus 9 takes about two minutes to boot. This is partly because Google ships the tablet with data encryption which cannot be disabled. Sadly, Google did not bother to add the hardware which could decrypt it in a reasonably speedy manner.

Normally this should not matter much, as a tablet is always on. Alas, the Google Nexus 9 does not work like that. It would crash many times in a day. I presume this is because of the aforementioned thermal issues and extreme memory pressure.

All three Nexus 9 devices we had suffered from the same problem. I play a lot more games than Davy does, but there was not really much of a difference in the spontaneous reboot or freeze frequency. It rebooted from Twitter, Gmail, Chrome and even when unlocking it to the launcher. When it did not reboot, applications crashed distressingly frequently, even by Android standards. Great design choice, Google!

You may have noticed I said we had three of these dreadful devices between the two of us. That was because the display on my Nexus detached from the touch screen glass layer after three months. Amazon sent me a replacement. Two weeks ago, after less than three months, the same thing happened again. Great build quality, HTC!

Nexus 9 with box

Nexus – Just say no

So, to sum it up, the Nexus 9 offers

  • Great screen
  • Elegant, understated design
  • Theoretically fast, but in practice disastrous CPU architecture
  • Too little memory, inefficiently used
  • Terrible thermal solution causing overheating and crashes
  • Terrible build quality

On a final note, in six months, despite a vast number of complaints from users about bugs, only some of which we personally experienced, Google have only released one major software update for the Nexus 9. Even the (differently but equally disappointing) Nexus 10 and Nexus 7 we have previously bought and sold have received more updates in the same time. It appears that Google think Nexus owners are fools for buying their products, and have no regard at all for people who have shelled out almost £400 for their flagship late-2014 tablet. I suppose we are fools. We really should have learned this lesson from owning a Nexus 7 and a Nexus 10. We will never buy a Nexus device again!

Amazon to the rescue

Fortunately Amazon have excellent customer service (and must have handled quite a few cases of this with the Nexus 9), and I received a full refund yesterday. So, now I have finally got rid of the old bag and am on the lookout for new, genuine Android tablet love. In fact, I have already got to know the younger sibling of a previous tablet squeeze of mine. I think we will get along fine. Expect to hear more soon!